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All of us Indians share this great curiosity for our Western neighbours, Pakistan. In quite a contrast, tucked away quietly in the Eastern corner, our other neighbour Bangladesh draws very little attention even though it shares as much of our history as does Pakistan. In many ways it is more similar to the Indian state of West Bengal than it is to Pakistan, of which it was once a part.
I wasn’t sure what I’d be served when I picked up A Good Muslim by a Bangladeshi author Tahmima Anam. However the novel affected me like few others have. I found myself thinking about the right and wrong of religion and of sibling relationships. It left me a bit confused too. And I found myself hunting for the other book, the one written before this A Golden Age. I wasn’t disappointed there either.
Tahmima Anam was born in Bangladesh but grew up abroad. Her father is the editor and Publisher of the Daily Star, an English newspaper in Bangladesh, so writing would have come pretty naturally. She completed a PhD in Anthropology from the Harvard University, which was based on the 1971 Bangladeshi war of Independence. While researching for her PhD she travelled and met people who had been part of the war. That’s where the seeds of her stories were sown.
Tahmima weaves intense human relationships in the setting of war and post war turmoil of Bangladesh.
A Golden Age is the story of Rehana. When she is widowed her children were given away to be brought up by her brother-in-law in far away Pakistan. Rehana manages to get them back but now, years later, as she watches them plunge headlong into the war, she fears losing them yet again and is ready to sacrifice everything for them. One part of her wants to let them follow their heart in supporting the country’s struggle while another part wants to keep them safe.
The character of Rehana is loosely based on her own grandmother, also a widow. From a simple housewife she turned into a passionate nationalist during the war and much like Rehana she actively helped with the war effort and even harboured freedom fighters.
The Good Muslim talks about Rehana’s children Sohail and Maya in post-war Bangladesh. They are separated during the war. By the time they meet after a decade, the once close sister and brother, have grown far apart by the choices they have made. While Sohail embraces his faith becoming a charismatic Muslim leader Maya remains a revolutionary and cannot empathise with her brother’s choice. Caught in the tussle is Sohail’s son who Sohail puts is a madarsa to Maya’s distress. The book brings up issues of religion and how each one interprets it differently.
I had heard stories of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh. However the book made it very real for me. This is truly the best way to learn about history.
Tomorrow we take a trip through India’s babudom. Guesses?
This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.
Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.